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We all have a shadow self – a side of ourselves that we may not even be aware of – which can make decisions that don’t always serve us well. But, asks Anita Chaudhuri, could getting to know our shadows, and even embracing all that they have to offer us, be the key to a successful, happy life?

Recently, a woman in my Pilates class invited me to a local drinks party. It was a very casual ‘drop in any time after 6pm’ invitation. My first mistake was to take these instructions literally. I turned up at 6.15pm wearing jeans and a baggy jumper, and there was only one other guest in the room. Everything about this stranger was immaculate – from the roots of her perfectly coiffed blonde hair to the pointy toes of her designer boots.

My hostess beamed at us both. ‘Ah Anita, meet X, she’s from Glasgow, too.’ Without thinking, I said, ‘Ha ha, you’d better lock up your wine then.’ Silence. The blonde looked daggers at me, so I stared at the floor until more guests arrived. Of course, by now I was feeling really uncomfortable. The socially intelligent thing would have been to transcend the awkwardness and carry on. Alas, that’s not what I did. Instead, I swigged two large glasses of wine and proceeded to repeat my, ‘Ha ha, better lock up your wine’ anecdote to other guests. I felt wrong-footed, on edge and, if I’m being honest, on dismally familiar ground.

My tendency to use humour as a way to deflect social awkwardness is certainly not new; I’ve been doing it since I was four years old and was embarrassed about having an unpronounceable surname. There’s a good side to this, of course, as I can actually be quite funny when I put my mind to it. But, when I’m using it for the wrong reasons, because I’m feeling badly dressed or like I don’t fit in, what’s coming to the surface is what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow self’ rooted in the unconscious mind.

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The latest issue of Psychologies is now available. Featuring: Revent your career, Jessica Chastain, Mini breaks, One for the road?, Be who you're meant to be plus much more. Download your copy today!